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Defense Gives Timberwolves Series Edge Over Mavericks

When the NBA Finals odds were put together at the start of the season, the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves weren’t exactly the favorites to come out of the Western Conference. But, starting Wednesday night, these two teams will be squaring off in a seven-game series for the right to represent the conference in the NBA Finals.

Dallas has been here before, and recently, falling to the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 Western Conference finals. The fifth-seeded Mavericks upset the fourth-seeded LA Clippers and the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, both in six games, to get to this point.

Defense Gives Timberwolves Series Edge Over Mavericks
Anthony Edwards #5 of the Timberwolves - C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images

The last time the Timberwolves played for a trip to the NBA Finals was also the only time the franchise won a playoff series of any kind, when the team lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 Western Conference finals. Minnesota was the third seed in the West, sweeping the Phoenix Suns in the first round before knocking off the second-seeded Denver Nuggets in seven games in the conference semifinals.

The NBA odds for this series are favoring the Timberwolves, who have home-court advantage. Minnesota is listed at -180 to advance to the Finals while Dallas is getting +160 odds to pull another series upset.

 

Mavericks Getting Boost From More Than Doncic, Irving

When you think of the Dallas Mavericks, superstar guards Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving are the obvious first players that come to mind. But this Mavericks team has gotten back to the Western Conference finals because it’s getting contributions from more than just the two backcourt stars.

Not that Doncic and Irving haven’t been playing well. Doncic is coming off 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the close-out game against the Thunder on Saturday, his fourth triple-double this postseason. But with Dallas down by one in the closing seconds of Game 6, Doncic passed it out from the paint to P.J. Washington, who was fouled on a 3-pointer and hit two free throws to put the Mavericks ahead for good.

It wasn’t Luka or Kai making the game winner,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said of the winning play. “It was the trust of Luka and the ball touches the paint, they collapse, he trusted P.J. We find a way to win.”

“I think we just stay together,” Doncic said of the team. “We always talk on the bench, stay together, positive energy. And today was a good example of it.”

Washington has been the team’s second-leading scorer in the postseason, and he scored nine points in the fourth quarter of Game 6, including a pair of late 3-pointers. Forward Derrick Jones Jr. had 22 points in the win, setting his playoff career high for the second straight game.

It’s the ability of the team’s role players to contribute that has helped Doncic, who has been hobbled by various injuries during the postseason, and Irving turn it on when they need to. Irving also had 22 points in Game 6 against Minnesota and brings championship experience to the team thanks to his NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.

Doncic and Irving are the keys to Dallas moving forward into the NBA Finals for the first time since winning the championship in 2011, but so are the other pieces of the puzzle. Minnesota’s defense has been extremely strong this postseason, so the Mavericks are going to need contributions from everyone on the court if they’re going to pull another series upset.

 

 

Defense the Strength for Timberwolves

Minnesota faced a 20-point deficit in the second half of Game 7 against Denver on Sunday night, so it turned to what has gotten it to this point all season long: defense. The Nuggets’ Jamal Murray hit a 3-pointer with 10:50 to play in the third to give Denver a 58-38 lead, but the defending champs scored just 32 points the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, Minnesota came roaring back, outscoring the Nuggets by 28 points to win easily and advance to the West finals.

“It shows who we are,” Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards said following the victory. “Once we really lock in on the defensive end, man, we’re a hell of a team to beat.”

Edwards makes them tough to beat as well. The 22-year-old is averaging 28.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists this postseason, and he can lock down defensively on the perimeter as well. The matchup between Edwards and Irving will be very interesting to watch.

The Timberwolves also have strength in the paint, with starters Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert and the NBA’s top reserve, Naz Reid, making it very difficult to score on the interior. Towns has played very well this postseason, averaging 18.8 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 44% from 3-point range.

Gobert is also tough defensively, but isn’t known for his offensive game. Still, his fadeaway jump shot with Nikola Jokic draped on him late in Game 7 was a back-breaker for the Nuggets, giving the Timberwolves a shot in the arm as they tried to close the series out.

Both teams have multiple players who can hit from 3-point range, so the difference may be the play in the paint. The Timberwolves’ big men must play strong on the boards against a Mavericks team that likes to hit the offensive glass for multiple scoring opportunities.

 

Timberwolves Pull Out Win For First Finals Trip

Both of these teams have exceeded the expectations of most fans and prognosticators, but one of them isn’t done yet. Dallas has played well on the road throughout the postseason, so not having home-court advantage isn’t going to deter it.

But Minnesota is playing with a lot of confidence right now, especially on the defensive end, so we like it to come out on top in a long series. When you’re making your NBA picks for the Western Conference finals, take the Timberwolves to come out on top.

 

Questions Of The Day

Have the Mavericks and Timberwolves ever played each other in the postseason


In the only other playoff matchup between Dallas and Minnesota, the Mavericks earned a three-game sweep of the Timberwolves in the 2002 first round.

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